We saw, supposedly, a budget cutting smack-down in the 2010 midterms. The talking heads and deficit hawks have said repeatedly that the heavy Democratic losses were a rejection of heavy spending, a repudiation of the Obama Administration’s “weak” job-creation, and a massive dose of humble pie. We were told that the biggest threats to our nation were government spending and government debt. The Tea Party, we were promised, had the solutions.
This song sounds strangely familiar. Without overindulging in policy debates previously covered in this space ad-nauseum, the initial legislative priorities of the Tea-publicans don’t seem to have much to do with the problems at large. In the Congress, and in state houses across the nation, these folks seem Hell-bent on addressing Roe v. Wade, gay marriage, and union-busting. Efforts at ending “reckless spending” have been exclusively (yes, exclusively) limited to cutting salaries and benefits for working Americans, attacking education, trimming indigent health care, bludgeoning Sesame Street, putting the cuffs on law enforcement, and of course, making the homes of the poor a little colder next winter.
(Publisher’s Note: Don’t let your small kids read this…M.C.)
Maybe the issue is too serious for the comparison, but I can’t help thinking of Santa Claus when the subject of Wikileaks is raised. I know; Christmas right? I never have been serious enough for the news. But hey, if the battle of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is really about whether we Americans are mature enough to take communal showers, then Wikileaks is really about whether it is good and proper to tell your kids the Santa Claus story.
The issues relating to the theft and release of millions of secret documents have dominated news cycles for months now. Should governments have secrets, what limits exist on freedom of the press, and what defines national security? I would argue that another issue, lying just below the surface, is fueling this story. Is the United States government ours, or is it some outside entity bent on malevolent control? If this is still the government of we the people, then only a hypocrite would suggest it not be permitted secrecy. In fact, it is my argument that many who line up now to cheer the perpetrators of this theft are indeed hypocrites.
When America goes to the polls on November 2, 2010 the outcome will, regardless of which party prevails, serve to reinforce the strength of our republic. This at least is my hope. The flaw in this hope, if you will, is the journey our nation has been traveling on for the last thirty years. Ever since President Reagan stated in his first inaugural address that government was the problem, we the people have slowly allowed ourselves to see government as an outside entity.
No concept in our civic vocabulary can be more dangerous to the foundation and future of our nation than the idea of government as “they”. The idea of a republic, which Alexander Hamilton defines in The Federalist as a representative democracy, is certainly tricky. The reason that history has been dominated by kings and queens, tyrants and dictators, cabals and cartels, is because one unyielding viewpoint is always easier to translate into consistent policy. A principle challenge in business is to unify the corporation and move it with confidence in one direction. When it is the business of the American people, the challenge is exponentially more difficult to realize. The simple math is that, in today’s America, majority rule means that 147 million of us could hate an idea, and its adoption would still be correct for our democracy.
Our political culture, for reasons of time and money, has been limited to shallow arguments and hyperbole. Have you ever noticed how every bill, politician, or scandal is either the worst thing since Satan, or the best thing since sliced bread? There is this pervasive notion in our culture that we the people are unwilling or lack the time to do real analysis of policy. I would point to the productive time lost to employers due to social networks and fantasy football, and conclude that time isn’t the problem. Our priorities are the reason America is falling short of our expectations.
This is, after all, a democracy. Our nation is proceeding more or less on the course we set for it, regardless of our protestations. There is no slippery slope on which we the people cannot find stability, and there is no grand enemy silently pulling our strings. I write this with the full knowledge that conspiracy theorists make more money selling their books…alas for the starving blogger. I can afford my principles, and they are all I can call my own. Despite the availability of the popular vote, and in spite of the easy access to good information, we the people are growing attached to our designated scapegoats. We have met our false villains, and they are our masters.
As someone who has spent nearly two decades in the practice of and study of business, I am not a hard sell when it comes to the notion of fiscal conservatism. Waste and inefficiency are the devils that haunt entrepreneurs and managers of businesses of every size, and fads cost money.
I have learned a golden rule of sorts over the years; one person’s waste is another’s investment in the business. I have known perfectly rational and intelligent managers who have chased away daily coffee customers (who buy a product that returns say, $ 0.60 on every purchase) by charging for “extra” creamers, and be perfectly willing to give away a book of matches to every cigarette customer at the same total profit.